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ND WOMEN’S LACROSSE: Irish take on JMU in opener

Michael Bryan | Friday, February 16, 2007

No. 5 Notre Dame begins its quest for a national championship Sunday as the Irish face No. 12 James Madison on the road.

The Irish enter the season with high expectations after a 15-4 campaign in 2006, highlighted by a trip to the NCAA semifinals. The team wrapped up its preseason with practice and scrimmaging this week, highlighted by an exhibition match with No. 6 Dartmouth.

Notre Dame fell 14-13 to the Big Green in the exhibition last Sunday afternoon, after a morning of controlled offensive and defensive scrimmages between the two teams. Despite the close loss, Irish coach Tracy Coyne was impressed by her team’s performance.

“For the first game of the year, it was a very high-caliber and fast-paced scrimmage – what you would expect from two final four teams,” Coyne said.

The team will try to use the experience gained by that exhibition match to defeat the Dukes in Harrisonburg, Va.

“I feel like the Dartmouth exhibition definitely has helped us focus in practice on things to attack and cover, as well as exposed areas that needed improvement,” Coyne said.

The team will be led by a talented group of returning starters, including three members of the preseason All-Big East team. Junior midfield/attack Caitlin McKinney and sophomore midfield/attack Jillian Byers were unanimous selections to the team, joined by senior defender Meaghan Fitzpatrick.

In addition to their No. 5 preseason ranking, the Irish were also picked to finish second in the conference. The inaugural Big East championship will be held this May, and stands near the top of the long list of goals for the Irish this season.

Notre Dame has a tough task, however, with No. 12 James Madison, who the Irish beat 12-11 at home last season.

“They’re a very competitive team that plays a very physical, hard-nosed game,” Coyne said.

Senior Meghan Murphy said the team felt very prepared and confident for Sunday’s game.

“Our goal is to improve with every competitive opportunity, whether it be a scrimmage, game, or practice,” Murphy said. “We want to come out strong from the opening whistle very strong and show what 2007 Notre Dame lacrosse is capable of.”